It's doubtful many saloons that celebrate Monday Night Football will rush to turn the set on an hour early tonight for "No Joy in Mudville." Too realistic. Not enough slow motion, with trumpets.
Their loss. "No Joy in Mudville" (Channel 7 at 8 p.m.) is a worthwhile hour-long amble through the state of Tsports, from the pros to the preteens, as seen by the Eighth Decade Consortium, an annual coalition of five major-market TV stations that includes Washington's WJLA (Channel 7), and which these last three years has produced such memorable documentary fare as "What Does Your Mom Do?" and "Fed Up With Fear."
"No Joy in Mudville" isn't quite memorable, but it's rightly irksome. Sports has never been so pure a pastime as we'd like to think, but things get ever more complicated and disappointing in these media-prone, hero-hungry 1980s.
The special's title comes from the poem "Casey at the Bat," which itself comes from an era of sport far different from the one on TV tonight. Remember? Back when men were men and women were cheerleaders? When a player's loyalties weren't divided between his coach and his lawyer? When heroes still had to work for a living--or could at least blow off steam with no danger of ending up on "Entertainment Tonight"?
The title, says executive producer Kevin Duffus of WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C., "reflects our conclusion that Americans today are much like the mythical citizens of Mudville, craving the emotional and physical release found in aligning ourselves with a sporting event." Well, the program--being a joint effort and thus kind of disjointed--lacks the overall reflective bent the title implies, but it has its moments.
The most gently prodding of the five segments is the one that'll come on just before the San Diego Chargers meet the Kansas City Chiefs at 9. Titled "Once a Hero," the segment is WCVB-TV's look at Boston's hometown-hero-gone-awry, Jim Craig.
Craig was the goalie of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team when that team showed the world in 1980 that we Americans--despite the Iranian chants and the Soviet waltz into Afghanistan--were nobody to mess with. Craig, an overnight success, headed for the pros--and for disillusionment, injuries, depression and, in 1981, an auto accident in which a woman died.
Though he was cleared of any wrongdoing in the crash, Craig's treatment in the media turned harsh. "Perhaps people would've forgotten about it if Craig had played better," says WCVB's Mike Lynch, "but perhaps people lean hardest on their fallen heroes."
"It's very difficult to be a hero in anything you do," says Craig, who is now in training camp, hoping to make the Minnesota North Stars, and a new start. Heroes, says Craig, are something you find in "cahtoons."
Channel 7's entry, "Playing Hurt," is a deftly paced look at the physical price pro football players pay for their glory. The average life span of a professional football player is 54--16 years under the average--and yet such widely known, widely wounded ex-players as Larry Brown, Brig Owens and David Rowe each tell WJLA's David Schoumacher they'd do it all again. If they could walk properly.
The price of glory, or of winning, is also central to the other segments--including "For Saturday Afternoon Glory," WRAL's look at the ever-mythical "scholar-athlete" and the lengths to which colleges will go to get on the map, not to mention on TV. Emphasis on winning in the Minneapolis area, where KSTP-TV's Cindy Brucato looks at coed sports for kids, seems to be what gives the state's relatively new coed program its biggest problem so far: The girls quit.
"They just stand there and don't do anything," says one boy, a soccer player.
"We don't like playing with boys," says a girl, "because they kick the ball too much."
Boy: "They're just off somewhere in space."
Girl: "They don't let us have the ball."
Not much to cheer about in this program. Wincing, yes. Cheering starts at 9.